The news of yet another shooting leaves us stunned. Violence, it seems, has taken up residence down the street and we are left unnerved, undone and insecure. An uneasiness sits over our country like a midnight fog. We hear of opioid abuse, increasing numbers of suicides and this, a former Marine turned gunman killed 12 people in a bar rampage in California, on Wednesday night.
What are we to do? We feel like locking our doors and never entering society again.
But it is time for us to do just the opposite. It’s time for us to reach out to one another, to open our doors, sit down at our tables and talk. It’s no accident that hospitality and hospital come from the same Latin word, for they both lead to the same result: healing. When you open your door to someone, you are sending this message: “You matter.”
Do you know people who need this message? Singles who eat alone? Young couples who are far from home? Co-workers who’ve been transferred, teens who feel left out, and seniors who no longer drive? Some people pass an entire day with no meaningful contact with anyone else. Your hospitality can be their hospital. All you need are a few basic practices.
Issue a genuine invitation. Let your guests know you want them to come. Call them on the phone or step over to their desk at work. Are they neighbors? Knock on their door and say, “We’d love for you to join us at our dinner table tonight. Please come.” People weather so many daily rejections. The doctor can’t see them, the kids didn’t call. The airplane is booked. But then you invite them over. We have room for you! Life-altering.
Make a big deal out of their arrival. Gather the entire family at the front door. Swing it open as you see them approach. If you have a driveway, meet them on it. If your apartment has a lobby, be waiting on them. This is a parade-worthy moment. One of God’s children is coming to your house!
Address the needs of your guests. Take time to talk and listen. No televisions blaring in the background. No invasive music. Make sure everyone has the opportunity to speak. Go around the table and share favorite moments of the day, or memories of the week.
Send them out with a blessing. Make it clear you are glad your guests came. Offer a prayer for their safety and a word of encouragement for their travel.
The event need not be elaborate to be significant. You think the living room is a mess, but to the person whose life is a mess, your house is a sanctuary. You think the meal is simple, but to those who eat alone every night, pork and beans on paper plates tastes like filet mignon. What is small to you is huge to them.
Open your table.
Even more, open your circle. The Greek word for hospitality compounds two terms: love and stranger. The word literally means to love a stranger. Anyone can welcome a guest they know and love. But can we welcome a stranger? Can Hispanics live in peace with Anglos? Can Democrats find common ground with Republicans? Can a Christian family carry on a civil friendship with the Muslim couple down the street? Can divergent people get along? The odds of harmony increase as we sit down together and talk.
The California shooting will stir impassioned arguments about gun control and violence. Needed conversations to be sure. Yet, while policy-makers point fingers and make speeches, how about the rest of us reach out to one another. Open our doors. Open our hearts. And open our circles. Who would have thought? God’s secret weapons in the war on fear include your kitchen table and mine.
We never know what one meal will do.